Study: Racism can attack children’s health

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    A new study identifies the traumatic impact that racism can have on a child’s health and also offers strategies on how to address the problem.

    The study titled, “The Impact of Racism on Child and Adolescent Health, from the Section on Adolescent Health, Council on Community Pediatrics and Committee on Adolescence,” is published in the August issue of Pediatrics.

    Report authors describe racism as: “[A] system of structuring opportunity and assigning value based on the social interpretation of how one looks (which is what we call ‘race’) that unfairly disadvantages some individuals and communities, unfairly advantages other individuals and communities, and saps the strength of the whole society through the waste of human resources.”

    The study provides a historical perspective on the factors that have led to the persistence of racism. It also speaks to how person-to-person, institutional and internalized racism can undermine individual and group mental health.

    “Pediatricians strive to care for children and adolescents such that they all have an opportunity to reach their full potential,” the report says. “Although we have progressed toward greater racial equity, racism continues to undermine the health of children, adolescents and families. Children and adolescents experience racism through the places they live and learn, by what they have economically and how their rights are protected.”

    Rose Moten

    Rose Moten, a Detroit-based psychologist, author, speaker and life coach who specializes racism and its effects on individuals and society, isn’t surprised by the study’s findings.

    “That’s one of the reasons I’ve transformed my practice to deal more with trauma recovery and trauma healing because I’m finding that it’s the cause behind a lot of issues of even learning; the inability to plug into academic environment; and the inability to regulate emotionally,” said Moten, who is African American. “You can just imagine the impact that [racism] has across lifetime relationships and career in every aspect of life.”

    By engaging patients and families in clinical care settings and through effective anticipatory guidance, pediatricians, the study suggests, can help parents raise children and adolescents who can do the following:

    •       Identify racism when they see or experience it 
    •       Distinguish racism from other forms of unfair treatment
    •       Oppose negative messages or behaviors by others
    •       Replace it with something positive or constructive to prevent consequences associated with internalizing those experiences
    Ken Coleman
    Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.


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